HTS Moderator , Reviewer
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=9384[/img]Title: Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
Starring: Jet Li, Xun Zhou, Kun Chen, Gordon Liu
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Tsui Hark
Runtime: 121 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: October 2nd, 2012
HTS Overall Score:83
For those of you who remember, there was a Taiwanese film years and years ago titled “Dragon Gate Inn;” years later Tsui Hark remade the film and titled it “Dragon Inn.” NOW, after more than 20 years since its last iteration, Tsui Hark has returned to the world of Dragon Gate Inn and decided to make another story set in the same universe. “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” is a sequel, of sorts, to “Dragon Inn,” and re-visits some of the same places and characters as the original. However, for new fans, there is enough information given that one can seamlessly step into the series without having to see the original to understand who everyone is and why they are there. Now, before I go any further, let tell you that this is no ordinary sword-fu movie. Tsui Hark is legendary for his use of wire-fu and fantasy imagery to tell a tale, and here it is no different. HOWEVER, this is where Tsui decides to take a twist. Instead of just inserting wire work into the movie he actually takes the entire essence of the film and COMPLETELY recreates a classic Wuxia movie from beginning to end. From the set designs to the post looped voices, to the “old men” with whitened hair and wigs and the ability to throw logs with just a finger twitch, and, of course, the ability to leap 100 feet like it’s nothing. If I hadn’t known any better (and of the obvious inclusion of 3D effects) I would have guessed that I was watching a very large budgeted Shaw Brothers film. The first half an hour of the film had me raising an eyebrow wondering where Tsui was going with the film, but after that, as I adjusted to the obvious throw back to the kung-fu movies of old, I sat back with a big grin on my face and watched a master of visual cinematography do his magic
The film is a hodge-podge of three separate story lines. We have Jet Li playing Zhao Gwai On, a freedom fighter who wages a guerrilla war on the government’s two factions, the East and West Bureau. The East Bureau is a faction of the government led by a group of eunuchs, and the West is basically the Emperor’s secret service. An official in the East Bureau named Yu Hua Tian (Kun Chen) is after a pregnant palace maid in order to satiate the bloodthirsty desires of the Emperor's favorite concubine. The two meet up at the famed Dragon Gate Inn, an area surrounded by mystery and visited by rogues and government types alike. There we include the third group of adventurers, a band of thieves searching for an ancient city made of gold hoping to get rich beyond their wildest dreams. As fate would have it, one of the thieves, named Blade in the Wind, bears a striking resemblance to Yu Hua Tian (both played by Kun Chen). The games of cat and mouse begin, the thieves trying to ascertain why the government is there, the official searching for the lost maid, and Zhao Gwai On coming to make sure the officials pay for their barbarism against the people.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=9386[/img]The plot is your typical Asian epic, convoluted and sometimes difficult to follow, but always entertaining. The plot seems to take backseat to the visuals, but being that this film was MADE to showcase the 3D effects and fantastic costume designs, it’s understandable. The film does not have a shortage of fantastic fight scenes, and it intermingles them with copious amounts of 3D cinematography, delivering in spades on both fronts. The one drawback that I noticed was that the CGI was not the best in the world, but for someone who’s familiar with Asian cinema, that’s usually how it goes - the budget doesn't go for large amounts of incredible CGI but rather to the set designs and costumes, which is most definitely apparent here. Costumes and sets are some of the most intricate I've seen in ages: rich brocaded robes for the nobles and HUGE sets that are 95% real world devices rather than CGI laden backdrops (although there is plenty of those smattered throughout the film as well). Whether you watch the film in 2D or in 3D it’s pretty obvious that the entire movie was filmed with 3D in mind: blades whirling straight at your face, chains looping in huge sweeping arcs, and battle scenes choreographed in a way that accentuates the 3rd dimension beautifully.
Rated R for some violence
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=9385[/img]The video for “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” was excellent, to say the least. Colors pop like no other; the film is dominated by a yellowish hue most of the time, but it was a stylistic choice used to create that ancient Chinese feel. Detail was amazing; there were times that I could actually see the acne imperfections on Yu Hua Tian’s face THROUGH the makeup. The picture is quite free of banding or compression artifacts. The only real problem with the film was a kind of smoothness, usually relegated only to faces. My suspicion there was that they were trying to rub out any facial flaws in order to keep with the overly “beautiful” feeling of the sets and costumes. Dark detail was excellent as well, no black crush that I could see, even in the deep darkness of an underground cavern. Shadows were deep and inky, while at the same time people didn’t get lost and have the shadows dominate the dark scenes. Overall, a gorgeous looking picture with some amazing set work and costuming to show off on screen.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=9383[/img]The Audio was every bit as excellent as the video, at least in the case of the Mandarin track. We are given two tracks from which to choose: a Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless track and a 2.0 dolby digital English track. As you can guess, the 2.0 English track pretty much butchers the soundstage by killing out all hints of LFE and channel separation, and it is given an AWFUL dub to boot. It's really not worth even listening to except to get a chuckle from obviously slapdash dub. The 5.1 Mandarin track, on the other hand, is much more detailed and given much more effort in its production. The voices are post looped so there is a bit of that 1960’s lip synching Shaw brothers’ effect, but that adds to the charm of the movie rather than detracts, in my opinion. Dialogue is neatly lodged in the center channel, clearly audible while being balanced with the surrounds and sound effects. Channel separation was excellent; whether it was a footstep walking up behind you or the keening sound of a thrown knife whistling from one end of the speaker system to another, one could literally hear its path and know where everyone was just by closing your eyes. LFE was excellent, nothing to rip the walls down, but very balanced and accurate. The sounds of logs thundering into the ground and the effects of a sandstorm are deep and rich while not intrusive or overbearing. While one would expect to hear the sounds of blades and fists striking each other all over the film, the most beautiful part of the film was all of the ambient noises, during a meeting of the Eastern bureau you can hear the sounds of flies buzzing, crickets chirping, and the whisper quite sound of a robe being scraped over the ground, each intertwining itself into the audio mix, coming from a single direction or coming from all channels at once. Simply put, this Mandarin track is one of the most IMMERSIVE tracks I've heard in a long time.
• Making of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate Part 1
• Making of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate Part 2
• Interviews with Cast and Filmmakers
• Behind the Scenes
As is usual with Tsui Hark, visuals trump storytelling every time, but as a whole “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate” is a blast from beginning to end. The fights never let up and the scenery alone is worth the price of admission. For those thinking that Jet Li is going to be the main star, it might be best to temper those expectations, since this is much more of an ensemble cast rather than a one star vehicle for Li. However, don’t let that deter you from watching one of the most visually sumptuous Asian films of the year. Pair that with some fantastic audio/video scores and we have the perfect recipe for a movie night. I highly recommend fans of the genre pick this up, and for those who are unsure, it’s definitely worth the price of admission just for the 3D alone.
Buy Flying Swords of Dragon Gate on Blu-ray
Recommendation: Watch It!